Friday, July 28, 2017

What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world? - A Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
July 30, 2017

While he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in the year 1534, Sir Thomas More wrote a work called A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation. It’s a fictional dialogue set in the Kingdom of Hungary during the Ottoman invasions of that century and takes place between a man named Vincent and his uncle Anthony. Vincent finds himself frightened for his life due to the invasions and so he visits Anthony in the hope that he’ll be able to offer him some comfort and consolation. The dialogue centers on Anthony instilling within Vincent the sense that this world is passing and that the only true comfort we can receive comes from Jesus Christ and the hope of eternal life that he offers. One of my favorite parts of their conversation comes towards the end, when Anthony recalls for Vincent one of Aesop’s fables. He tells him the tale of Jupiter, who once threw a great feast and invited all of the small and poor worms to it. All of the worms heeded the invitation, except the snail who stayed at home. Afterwards, Jupiter approached the snail to ask her why she did not come to feast. He told her that she would have been “welcome and have fared well, and would have seen a goodly palace and been delighted with many goodly pleasures.” In response, the snail smugly replied that she loved no place so much as her own home. Angered by her answer, Jupiter decreed that since she loved her home so much, she would henceforth carry it on her back, condemned to bear its burden wherever she went for the rest of her days. Vincent is intrigued by this tale and asks his uncle to clarify what he means by sharing it. Anthony explains that, like the snail, so many people have their priorities skewed – they care only for their house on earth and “cannot, for the lothness of leaving that house, find it in their hearts to go with good will to the great feast that God has prepared in heaven.” And, in so doing, not only do they end up depriving themselves of ultimate goodness and happiness and bliss, they condemn themselves to the misery of carrying the weight of a passing world on their shoulders. This whole Dialogue, as telling as it is, takes on a whole new level of profundity when we consider that its author, less than a year later, would willingly forsake all of the profits of this world and surrender himself to the king’s order of execution, all for the gain of heaven.

In our Gospel today, Jesus places before us three small, but loaded parables…each of which is meant to help us see that the kingdom of heaven is worthy of our urgent and steadfast desire and pursuit. He likens the kingdom of heaven to an amazing treasure buried in a field, to a pearl of great price, and to a vast net that is cast into the sea and then filled with fish. But in each of these parables, He is quick to warn that we can only attain the richness of God’s kingdom if we renounce our own. Like the snail, we have been invited and called into absolute bliss, but unless we are willing to leave our own homes – our own kingdoms – behind, then we will shackle ourselves to this life and deprive ourselves of the bounty that God wants for us to have. Unless we sell all we have so that we can buy the field and its treasure, unless we sell all of our other goods to buy the priceless pearl, unless we leave the shore and cast our nets into the sea, we will never inherit the kingdom of God.

You and I are concerned with many things: our jobs, our wealth, our security, our families, our well-being, etc. We go to great lengths to secure temporal happiness for ourselves and our loved ones. We expend an incredible amount of energy ensuring that this life is everything that it possibly can be. But are we as concerned with and invested in the life of the world to come? Do we pursue the kingdom of heaven with same sense of urgency and abandon? Or do we simply presume that God – because He is good and merciful – will simply hand it over to us in the end? Jesus makes it pretty clear to us today that His kingdom is found without cost, but that it cannot be possessed without the loss of this world. In other words, if we do not desire and pursue His kingdom with reckless abandon, ordering and subjecting all of our other desires and pursuits in this life to the attainment of heaven, then it will never be ours.

So what does this actually mean? Does this mean living a life of meaningless misery, pain, and suffering? Does it mean depriving ourselves of good things in this life? Does it mean “Quaker’s meeting has begun, no more laughing and no more fun?” Not at all! Our Lord wants us to enjoy all that is good in this life, but He wants us to see it all in the light of eternity. He wants us to live in this world, but not to be of it…to live in the City of Man, but to not be consumed by it…to live for the City of God and to pursue it. This means that we subject all things to God’s will first and foremost, and that if it becomes at all apparent that something we desire or love is contrary to His will we are ready to drop it like a hot potato. It means pursuing virtue and eradicating vice; it means growing in holiness and avoiding sin; it means loving God and our neighbor before ourselves. It means being willing to suffer when it is necessary; it means taking up our crosses when we are asked; it means, ultimately, dying to ourselves so that we might rise to new life. We must have the awareness that we have, set before us, the greatest promise of happiness and we must have the focus to keep our eyes set on it over and above all else.

In his 1960 play A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt theatricized the heroic and saintly witness of St. Thomas More as he faced persecution for denying the legitimacy of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. In one scene, we find that the prosecutors at his trial are at a loss to find any hard evidence on which to convict Thomas More for treason, and so they resort to manufacturing false evidence. Sir Richard Rich, a longtime friend and mentee of More, is the chosen vehicle for this act of perjury; he is bribed with power and appointed the attorney general for Wales in exchange for testifying against More. The coward that he is, he takes the stand and offers the false testimony that will ultimately condemn More to death. Recognizing that he is doomed, Thomas More asks only one question of Sir Richard Rich. Noticing that he is now wearing a medal of office, he asks what it signifies. When he learns of Rich’s appointment, he turns to his old friend and asks him the most haunting of questions: “Why Richard, it profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world…but for Wales?”

St. Thomas More understood the value of heaven and he understood that all the riches of this world are as nothing compared to it. Will we be like him or will we sell ourselves out for the lesser pleasures of this world? Will we run, no matter the cost, to be at home with God, or will we shackle ourselves to the homes we have built? Today we pray that we will be given the strength, the courage, and the grace to leave all else behind, to leave our homes and the comforts of this earthly city, and to find it in our hearts, unlike Aesop’s snail, to “go with good will to the great feast that God has prepared in heaven.”

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Separating the Wheat from the Weeds - A Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
July 23, 2017

Have you ever formed a poor opinion of someone only to later discover that you were dead wrong? Have you ever judged someone harshly only to later find out that your judgment was way off? Have you ever jumped to a conclusion about a person or a situation only to fall flat on your face? The answer, of course, is yes...we have all done these things. It’s easy for us to see and focus on the imperfections of others, to zero in on their misdeeds, and to presume that we, in our own “perfection” have all the answers. And so we judge, we nitpick, we come to rash conclusions, all based usually on a mere impression or appearance. Let’s be honest with ourselves...we can be pretty terrible with our thoughts sometimes: what we think about the young mother at the grocery store buying ‘non-essentials’ with food stamps, or the over-weight man in line for ice cream, or the beggar on the street who reeks of alcohol, or our grumpy and red-faced Republican neighbor, or our open-minded but empty-headed and liberal aunt, and on and on. How we just love to point out what we think is ridiculous, unjust, or we love to malign each other and gossip about each other. How we love to cut each other down if only for a brief moment of pleasure that allows us to feel that we’re somehow better or more put together than someone else. But the sad reality is, at any given moment, we more often than not lack the full spectrum...we lack the facts...and we know it, and yet we still push forward, presuming the worst of others.

In our Gospel today, our Lord gives us a stern warning about this entire enterprise...and He does so by means of another parable. He invites us to consider a vast field of wheat in which the master has planted much good grain that is bearing good fruit. But after some time his servants notice that, alongside all this good wheat, there are many weeds...weeds that had been sown by the enemy while everyone was asleep. In their zeal and their enthusiasm, the servants ran to their master to report the problem and to ask if he’d like them to start pulling the weeds up. The master gave a quick and stern response: he warned them not to pull the weeds up because, if they did, they might uproot the wheat along with them.

For those of us who know a little bit about gardening and farming, we know that weeding – while necessary – is a delicate work. If we’re too quick and not careful, we can start pulling out or damaging our good plants. That’s why a good gardener knows his garden well...he knows what he planted and what he did not plant, he knows where he planted what he planted, and he knows when is the best time to weed and when it’s better to wait. And if this is true in a small garden, you better believe it’s even truer in a big wheat field. In a wheat field, not only is the task of weeding more daunting, it’s much more difficult because the weed that typically grows alongside wheat – called darnel or cockle – looks incredibly similar to fact, the wheat and the weeds are almost indiscernible from each other until right around harvest time, when the ripe wheat will appear brown and the darnel will appear black. Now it’s true, darnel is poisonous and can even kill you if you eat it, but if someone starts to zealously weed out the darnel before harvest time, before seeing the big picture, he runs the risk of doing huge damage to the field...he risks, because of his own ignorance and carelessness, destroying what’s good in an effort to eliminate what’s bad.

This is precisely what Jesus is warning us against. He wants us to stop ignorantly and carelessly judging the hearts of others because, without the full picture that He has, we run the risk of doing tremendous damage to them, to others, and to ourselves. Sometimes we’re so bent on the noble task of rooting out evil wherever it may be that we can start seeing it where it’s not. We presume it’s where it’s not and then we miss seeing it where it actually is. Our Lord has not recruited us to be weed-pullers...He has called us to work with Him to sow the grain and to harvest the wheat, but the weeding belongs to Him. Our lives must be spent cultivating and sowing and fertilizing and watering, but to trust that He alone is the master of the field. He is the Just Judge, Who in the end will separate the wheat from the weeds and the sheep from the goats. Our task is to make sure, in our own lives, that we are living as wheat and that we are inspiring others to do so by our witness.

So if you’re ever in the mood to start being a weed-puller, if you’ve got the urge to start pulling up weeds and eliminating evil, don’t go into town looking for your opportunity...look into the mirror, look into your own heart. What are we doing to remove the weeds, the darnel, the evil, from our own lives? And are we spending so much time looking for weeds ad extra that we are oblivious to the weeds ad intra? We have to spend more time – in God’s grace – examining our own consciences, taking our own spiritual inventories, and getting to know our own spiritual gardens well enough to know the wheat from weeds. One of the most tragic things in our world today is that so many people live unexamined lives...they don’t really think about their own thoughts, actions, and failings...and this is precisely what allows darnel to spread from our own hearts and lives into the hearts and lives of those around us. Confession lines are short...way too short...but there is no shortage of sin in each of our lives. This should tell us that we need to spend more time examining our own lives and less time examining the lives of others.

And so my friends, let us recommit ourselves to the robust living of the Christian life. Let each of us, today, here and now, make the graced-choice to be sowers of good seed. Let us rededicate ourselves to fruitful and examined living. Let us commit ourselves to going to the Sacrament of Confession regularly, to going to Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Day, to praying fervently in both thanksgiving and supplication, and to reaching out in mercy and service to those in need. We can never deny evil and we can never encourage another to pursue it, but we must know that the time and method of weeding it out is known only to the Lord of the harvest. Today we pray that He, our Christ and God, Who alone sees the field for what is truly is, will deem us worthy to be counted among his faithful stewards and among His good wheat.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Our Hearts are...Gross? A Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time?

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Fifteenth Sunday of the Year
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
July 16, 2017

For a long time now, heart disease has been the leading cause of death worldwide. Coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, hypertension…these and other ailments of the heart are quickly and steadily claiming more and more victims each and every year. As a result of this, doctors and healthcare workers are constantly reminding us about the need for preventative care…we’re told constantly to watch our diets, exercise, and visit the doctor’s office yearly. The heart is such an important organ that we really can’t be too careful…and if we’re not careful, sooner or later it’s going to catch up with us and the consequences could be dire.

But you know, there’s another kind of disease of the heart that’s even more common and more deadly than anything you’ll hear about from your cardiologist. It’s a disease that doesn’t affect our physical hearts, but rather our spiritual hearts. And this is a major theme in the Gospels…Jesus is constantly speaking about the health and well-being of our spiritual hearts.

For example, in Matthew 15:8, Jesus speaks about spiritual hearts that have stopped beating and are inoperative when He says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Just a few verses later, in Matthew 15:19, he goes on to speak about hearts that are diseased…that are filled with sickness and sin; He says, “For from your heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, and blasphemy.” And in Matthew 22:37, Jesus reminds us what our hearts are for…not for apathy or for harboring evil, but for love. He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” No fewer than 60 times throughout all four Gospels do we hear references to our spiritual hearts…clearly this is important to the Lord.

And today we find out exactly why the Lord is so concerned with our hearts. In our Gospel, Jesus Christ the Divine Physician examines the human heart and offers us His disturbing diagnosis…echoing the words of the Prophet Isaiah, He says, “Gross is the heart of this people…they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes.” The Greek word used here for “gross” is epachynthē – it literally refers to fat that has congealed and become dull and hard,  like wax. “Calloused” and “hardened” don’t quite convey the same message…Jesus is telling us that our hearts are gross, they are clogged and congested with a waxen fat that prevents them from doing what they were meant to do. It doesn’t really require a whole lot of debate to see that Jesus is spot on here…turn on the news or read the paper and you’ll see story after story of people committing horrible actions and terrible deeds. Sickness and sin plague the hearts of so many of us…gross indeed is the heart of God’s people!

So that’s the diagnosis. What about the prognosis? It’s not good…not good at all. Just as a diseased physical heart leads to physical death, you better believe that a diseased spiritual heart leads to spiritual death. Now it’s easy and tempting for us to ignore this in ourselves and to point it out in others, but the reality is…we’re all sick and we’re all dealing with some pretty severe blockage in our hearts. My heart disease might not be the same as yours, and yours might not be the same as the guy next door, and his might not be the same as Hitler’s, but folks…none of us are as heart healthy as we need to be. And just like physical heart disease, spiritual heart disease can go unnoticed for a long time, slowly and subtly killing us without our being much aware of it. Deliberate sin, however small or insignificant we might think it is, is still terribly taxing on our hearts. Our selfishness and bitterness and sinfulness build up like plaque over time in our spiritual arteries, preventing our hearts from pumping, from loving the way they were meant to. And if this goes untreated over time, this little bit of plaque can develop into an awful lot, and the danger becomes grave. 

But, of course, not all is lost. Christ is indeed our good physician…and while He offers us a hard diagnosis and a tough prognosis, He also offers us an infallible treatment if we’re open to receiving it. He is ready to tear open our hearts and to make them like new. He’s ready to fill our disease-stricken hearts with His love, His mercy, and His grace. But like any good surgeon, He’s not going in without our permission. The choice is ours.

The parable of the sower and the seeds that we hear today reminds us that God is so generous with His grace, but we have to be prepared to receive it. We have to ensure that our soil on which the seeds of His grace fall is tilled and rich and ready for planting. We have to be honest with ourselves about the rockiness, and the weeds, and the thorns in our lives that will prevent His grace from taking root…we have to get rid of them and open ourselves up. So ask yourself today…what do you need to do this? A good confession? More prayer? More service? More sacrifice? The answer is all of the above. We need now to ask for the strength to engage in this holy work…and our answer comes from this altar.

Through the abundance of His goodness that we receive at this Holy Mass today, may we continue to respond to the Lord’s offer of grace so that we can truly converts our hearts over to Him, to be made into people with hearts changed and made anew. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Rest from the Burden of Sin - A Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
July 9, 2017

Have you ever been so incredibly tired that all you wanted to do was just collapse in utter exhaustion? Have you ever been really and completely tired…I mean drained and worn out? I think we’ve all been there, whether it was because of work, or school, or family obligations, or sports, or what have you. I think we’ve all had times when, physically, our bodies just can’t take it anymore and we’re done. Luckily we have this little thing known as sleep that amazingly helps to refresh and renew our tired bodies. There’s nothing like a nice shower, a hearty meal, and a solid eight hours of good sleep to get us back on track and ready to jump back into gear. But isn’t it true that there’s another kind of tiredness that sleep cannot take care of? A fatigue that extends way beyond heavy eyes and sore muscles…that lingers and stays with us despite all of our efforts…a weariness that cuts to our core, dampens our spirit, and weighs us down. It’s the kind of tiredness that affects our whole person and makes the whole of life seem burdensome. Each one of us, myself included, at any given moment suffers more or less from this existential fatigue. Sometimes it is brought about because something horrible and tragic has happened…other times it is brought about because our dreams and expectations were not fulfilled…but more often than not, this weariness is brought about as the direct or indirect effect of the poor choices we human beings so often and easily make. In our Christian tradition we call this “sin” and we know, from our own experience, that sin has a trickle-down makes us miserable, tired, worn out, anxious, weary, and burdened.

When God created the whole world, He created it good. When He created man and woman, He didn’t just create them good, but very good. After the Fall, man and woman did not lose their fundamental goodness, but they did lose the ability to act in accordance with this goodness. This is why sin makes us miserable…sin is not something that simply offends God, a breaking of God’s rules and laws, sin is something that is completely and utterly opposed to everything we are. God created us beautiful, He created us true, and He created us good…this is who we are and nothing can change that…but sin is ugly, sin is false, sin is not good. We were not made for sin, we were not made to sin, and so when we do sin things go poorly for us. We get bogged down by it, and the more we sin and the greater we sin the more miserable we become.

When I was a little boy I was constantly getting into trouble…and often times it was because my ingenuity was getting the best of me: I would often take things from around the house and re-appropriate them for my own purposes. Sometimes this was harmless, like when I’d use the couch cushion to makes forts…but other times I went too far. I remember one time taking the garden hose and using it as a rope to climb the tree in our back yard. There’s a reason hoses don’t make good ropes…they’re slippery and they have no traction. Of course this thought didn’t occur to me until after the hose lost its grip, and I fell and broke my arm. When my mother heard my screaming she came running out of the house and after she determined that I would live to see to tomorrow she didn’t hesitate to scold me…referring to my make-shift rope she shook her head and said, “That’s not what that’s for!” If I had a dollar for every time my mother said, “That’s not what that’s for” I’d be a rich man…but there’s a lot of wisdom behind it, isn’t there? Hoses were not made to be used as ropes for climbing…they were made for something completely different. By misusing the hose I was asking for trouble…and I got it…about six weeks in a cast worth of trouble.

Sin is like this…just on a much greater scale. We’re not made to sin, we’re made for something completely different…something much better. But sin is alluring and it calls out to us, convincing us that everything will be okay if we just give in…and when we do, we see the lie for what it is. We don’t feel okay, we don’t feel good…we feel miserable. Just like the hose slipped and sent me falling to the ground, sin causes us to slip and fall from God, from each other, and even from our own selves. Luckily for me I had my mother who, despite her rightful scolding, lovingly brushed me off and took me to the emergency room so that I could begin the process of healing. I fell, she picked me up, and before the end of the day my arm was in a cast and on the road to health. But isn’t it the case that with sin we tend to stay on the ground? Our embarrassment, our fear, or even our apathy causes us to wallow…we long for wholeness, but we’re not sure how to get it. We might try to find it ourselves or turn to other means for healing, but this never works, at least not for long. I think about the day-time talk shows where we see people from all over the world getting on national television to talk about some pretty serious things: that their marriages failed, that they don’t know who the father of their children is, that they’re cheating on their spouse, that they’ve gambled away their savings, that they’re horribly addicted to drugs and alcohol…they’re bogged down by the effects of sin in their lives and they’re yearning for healing…they’re yearning for someone to pick them up, brush them off, love them, and make them whole once again. The problem is, we can’t just turn to each other, we can’t just turn to other people who themselves are struggling with their own sin…and we certainly can’t turn to ourselves. So where do we go? How do we get out of the cesspool of sin and misery? Who can relieve us of our weariness? The answer is plain as day: Jesus Christ.

In our gospel today from St. Matthew, we hear Jesus tell us, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are burdened…and I will give you rest.” Jesus Christ, Who is both God and Man, Himself without sin, took on the burden of our sin at Calvary and poured out His innocent and holy blood for the forgiveness of our sins. But the effects of this great act of love are not automatic…they have to be willingly and actively received by us. He tells us that we have to come to Him…that we have to take His yoke upon us and learn from Him. He has power over the sin that infects our lives and makes us miserable…but He can’t heal us and make us whole again unless we want Him to. We must invite Him daily into our hearts and into our lives, so that the saving power of His Cross can destroy our weariness and our fatigue.

One of the ways in which the Lord makes present to us the salvific effects and power of His gift of love on Calvary is through the Sacrament of Penance, of Confession. This Sacrament is the ordinary way in which sins are forgiven and we are restored to wholeness. I go to confession once every two weeks…I have for years and I hope I always will. I know that Christ is present, in a unique and wonderful way through His priest in the confessional…and when I’m bogged down by sin, when I’m weary and disheartened, those beautiful words of absolution lift my soul and restore me to the abundant life. I would encourage all of us to make greater use of this holy Sacrament…and to do so regularly: once a month is an excellent practice. We have scheduled confession times, as you know, but don’t feel limited by them. If you need to go to confession, Father Greg, Father Rick, and myself…we’re here for you. I can only speak for myself, but feel free to call the parish office at any time to come see me. Or if you see me out and about, in between Masses, at the grocery store, at the coffee shop, whether I’m in a collar or whether I’m in a tee-shirt, stop me and ask. Nothing would give me greater joy. I’m here for you, day and night, 24/7, 365 days a year. I may not be able to drop everything immediately, but you are my greatest priority and I will always make time for you.

And so, in this spirit, in the desire to be whole, in the desire to be restored to fullness and goodness and glory, in the desire to be unburdened, we flock to our Lord Jesus Christ and come unto Him, laying before Him all we are, all that we have done and failed to do, and we hear gently whispered to us, “Yes, come to me…come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Friday, June 30, 2017

Complete Attachment to God - A Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Thirteenth Sunday of the Year
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
July 2, 2017

I have a question for you. It’s a simple question, but maybe the answer is not so simple. Why are you here? Seriously. Why are you here? Why are you sitting in church, at Mass, right now? You could be doing anything else. So, be honest with yourself...why are you here? Is it an external cause or an internal cause? You’re obviously here for a reason…so what is it? Is mom making you come? Maybe your wife or your husband? Maybe you’re here because it’s a habit…you just always come? Maybe you’re here because someone invited you to come check out this “church” thing? Maybe things aren’t going too well in your life and you’re looking for some answers or at least some consolation? Maybe you’re here out of a sense of duty…God asks us to worship Him and that’s exactly what you’re going to do. Why are you here?

For whatever reason, or for whatever reasons, known only to each of us personally, at least we  can say that we are here…right now. There are 168 hours in every week and we’ve chosen to spend at least one of them parked right here. And whatever our reason is, it’s good that we’re here…very good. Something has brought us here…something has called us out of ourselves and dared to present us with something much bigger than ourselves. And whether it’s because your wife dragged you here or even because of base curiosity, the cause, ultimately, is the same: God. Before we ever start seeking Him out, He has been long at work seeking us out and drawing us to Himself. The poet Francis Thompson, drawing inspiration from the great Saint Augustine, calls God the “Hound of Heaven” because He won’t leave us alone. He hounds us, chases after us, and is almost desperate for us. He’ll use any means necessary to get our attention…He’ll use any reason, even a nagging from mom or our sense of duty, just to get us here so that He can not only tell us, but show us how deeply He loves us. In the Mass, He gives Himself entirely to us…all that He is flows from Heaven onto this altar and into the Eucharist…His very flesh and blood. The union between God and humanity is never greater than it is right here.

And so He brings us here, giving us all that He is, but with one string attached. He wants all we have to give as well. Not from our wallets, or from our time, or from our talents – although all of that is important – but from our hearts. He wants us to give ourselves to Him as fully and as completely and as selflessly as He gives Himself to us. That longing that we have deep within our hearts…that longing for fulfillment, for lasting love, for happiness…no other person or thing will ever be able to fill it. And the reason is because that longing is a longing for God. He put it there…He put it there so that we’d come to Him.

In our Gospel today, we hear some very serious words come forth from the mouth of our Savior. They’re serious, but they are beautiful, they are true, and they are good. He tells the Apostles – and by extension all of us – quite plainly that He wants us to be as absolutely attached to Him as He is to us. God spared not even His own Son to draw us to Himself, and He wants us to spare nothing in return as we journey towards Him. This is the great work of the Christian life: to get our priorities straight and to know, love, and serve God above all else. Above mother and father, above son and daughter, above life itself.

This is risky business, though, isn’t it? If we spend our lives forsaking the things of earth for the things of heaven, we lose out don’t we? Every minute we spend in prayer we could be spending having fun. Every moment we spend in church we could be spending building up other friendships and relationships. Every moment we spend loving the unseen God, we could be spending loving someone else that we can actually see and hear and touch. Right? This is how we typically think about things, and so we calculate and weigh just how much or how little we’re willing to invest in our spiritual lives. But the beautiful thing, my friends, is that when we give our entire selves over to God – Who is the author of all good things – we don’t lose anything, because in Jesus Christ, what we think is loss is really gain and what we think is death is really life. That is why St. Paul tells us in our second reading today that “if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” By dying to ourselves, and to everything else, in order to enter into communion with God first and foremost, He brings us in His grace to new life and gives us the ability to live and love in ways we would never be able to. He makes the good things we died to even better and the relationships we died to even stronger. By sacrificing ourselves to Him, by taking up our crosses, He draws us into Himself, and gives us the means to love all things and all people as He does.

Coming to Mass, going to confession, praying daily, fasting, reading the Scriptures, dying to ourselves daily in order to live solely for God…it’s a sacrifice, it kills us for sure, but then raises us to life. It makes life sweeter and it makes our love deeper. It makes a father’s love for his son stronger and a son’s love for his father greater…it makes a mother’s love for her daughter more intense, and a daughter’s love for her mother more robust. In other words, it makes our earthly love more Godlike and begins to orient us towards eternal life in heaven. We lose nothing that is good in loving God above all…we gain everything that belongs to Him.

So why are you here? Because God loves you to death. Now it’s time to step up to the plate and begin loving Him to death as well. Today, at this Holy Mass, we pray for the grace to do so.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

“O Mary, We Crown Thee with Blossoms Today!” - A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
May 7, 2017

Many years ago, in the city of Alençon, France, a handsome watchmaker and a beautiful lacemaker passed by each other on a bridge. For the young woman – Azélie – it was love at first sight; she inquired around town, discovered the identity of the man – whose name was Louis Martin – and arranged to meet him. When the two officially met, it was all over...they were immediately smitten and fell in love with each other. After a short courtship and engagement, they married in the summer of 1858 and took up hearth and home together. For the Martin’s, their Catholic faith was everything to them. It impacted how they loved each other, how they lived their lives, how they ran their business, and how they raised their children. The love of God and love of neighbor permeated their home through and through. Every evening the Martin family would gather around the fireplace where Louis would lead his family in prayer, and on the mantle was a beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Louis and Azélie instilled within their daughters a deep love for Mary so that they, in turn, could come to a deeper love of Christ. From a young age the little Martin girls knew that Jesus gave His Mother Mary to the whole world as a Mother – even to them! – and so each of them, in their beautiful childlike faith, desired to love Mary as Jesus did and to love Jesus as Mary did. After prayers every night, Louis would allow each of the girls to pay some special homage to Mary; the older girls were fond of kissing Our Lady’s outstretched hands, but the youngest – Marie Thérèse – would often bring some flowers she had picked from the meadows to lay at Our Lady’s feet. Who would have thought that those simple evenings at the Martin home in Alençon would have been so life-giving for the rest of the world? Each one of the Martin children entered religious life, both Louis and Azélie were canonized saints in 2015, their middle daughter Marie Léonie is currently being considered for sainthood, and their youngest daughter – who would set France and the world on fire with her Little Way – became, in the words of Pope Pius X, the “greatest saint of modern times.” Saints Louis and Marie-Azélie...Servant of God Marie-Leonie Martin...Sisters Marie-Louise, Marie-Pauline, and Marie-Céline...and the great Saint Marie-Thérèse of Lisieux: one little family that burst with amazing holiness. And there is no doubt in my mind that this is all due to the love, protection, and intercession of the Mother of God.

This week we have begun the beautiful month of May...the month of Mary. As we bask in the glory of the Lord’s resurrection and joyfully celebrate the promise of eternal life that He has offered to us, we are reminded in this great month of one of the greatest gifts that He has given to us: the gift of His own Mother. Catholics are given a lot of gaff for their devotion to Mary...we’re accused of everything from worshipping her to ignoring Jesus in favor of her. All of this is, of course, a veritable load of baloney. We know that the Church Christ established, the Church born from His side on the Cross, the Church set on fire by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, is a family...and what family would be complete without a mother? Chosen from among all women and graced beyond measure, the simple maiden of Nazareth was given the incredible honor of bearing the Son of God in her womb. Everything human about Jesus...His eye color, His hair color, His DNA, His all came from Mary. She was and is and ever shall be His true and real Mother, and because in holy baptism He makes us His brothers and sisters, we are able to call upon Mary as our Mother as well. Not for a moment does she take the place of God...not for a moment does she overshadow Jesus Christ or what He has done for us. On the contrary, Mary glorifies God with her whole being and helps us to see more clearly what the Savior of the world has accomplished. Her holy life completely magnifies the Lord...she shows us what it means to give up your whole life in service to God and she shows us the glory that awaits us when we do so. And from her home in heaven, she is able to intercede powerfully for us all before God Himself...she is able to love us in the way only a mother can and, in turn, we are able to love her deeply as the Mother she is.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Our Gospel reminds us that, in Christ, we are all gathered into one flock by our one Shepherd. There can be no lone sheep; we are all in this together as a family. It is in this sheepfold, in this family, that we are all given the chance to live the abundant life, to love and to be loved in the way that we were created for. And while we indeed relate to our Good Shepherd individually, we also relate to Him collectively. Mary is the heartbeat of the Church, of our family, of our flock...her heart beats endlessly in love for our Shepherd and it beats endlessly in love for us. We give thanks today for her maternal heart, and in gratitude to God for the gift that she is to the Church, we honor her and we ask for her intercession. And just as the Martin family showed their love and appreciation for her through external signs, through their little acts of devotion, we do the same today. Our children, like the Martin girls, will crown our statue of Mary with flowers and with love, announcing to all the world that she is our Queen and the honor of our race. May our love for Mary, expressed today and all days, lead us to ever deeper love for Jesus Christ. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging.” - A Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Third Sunday of Easter
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
April 30, 2017

By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at his door after breakfast smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his woolly toes – Gandalf came by. Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear, you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale. Tales and adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever he went, and in the most extraordinary fashion... “I am looking for someone,” Gandalf said to Bilbo, “to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.” “I should think so – in these parts!,” said our Mr. Baggins, “We are plain folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.”

You might recognize these lines as among the first found in Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit. They give us our initial glimpse into the lives of these fascinating little creatures, showing them to be unadventurous, charming, and humble homebodies. They live, for all intents and purposes, the good life...their days are centered around food and family and farming. The Shire, where a great many of the hobbits live, is a beautiful and comfortable paradise...with picturesque green hills, calm streams, and rolling fields. It really is the land of milk and honey, a place where hobbits can easily have their six meals a day, throw their wonderful parties, and enjoy the simple lives they have carved out for themselves. Is it any wonder, then, that Bilbo would be so emphatically against Gandalf’s suggestion that he join him on an adventure? Why would he give up the comfort and predictability of his life only to run off into the unknown with an eccentric wizard and thirteen unkempt dwarves? No, Bilbo will not hear any of it. He is happy and content at home and will not budge for such a nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable thing.

Whether you’ve read the books or seen the movies, or even if you’ve only heard of them, we all know that Bilbo’s story doesn’t end is only just beginning. Gandalf the Grey, who is as wise as he is eccentric, pursues Bilbo relentlessly, not taking “no” for an answer. He knows that underneath the hobbit’s attachment to his home and his comfortable life is a flame – albeit a small one – that yearns for something more, for something greater. But Gandalf also knows that there is a fear in Bilbo that has prevented him from fanning that flame. Fear of the unknown, perhaps, or fear of danger, or fear of rejection, or fear of failure, or fear of loss, or an admixture of them all and more. This fear has kept Bilbo in his hobbit hole, ensuring that he live a safe, comfortable, and mundane ensures that he never play with the flame that flickers deep within so that he’ll never get burned. But where Bilbo is weak, where he is afraid, where he is complacent, Gandalf is there to offer him encouragement, to challenge him to greatness, and to fan the flame the burns in the little hobbit’s heart. Gandalf knows that there is a lot more in Bilbo than you can guess, and standing by his side, he convinces Bilbo to trust the flame, to take the risk, and to follow him on the adventure of a lifetime.

It took him awhile, but as he made his journey Bilbo came to discover that, simple though he was, he had the capacity for greatness. As he ventured out of the Shire and through Bag End, as he muddled on to Rivendell and into the Misty Mountains, as he wandered into Lake-town and ultimately to the Lonely Mountain and back again – encountering danger after danger, set-back after set-back, but also little victory after little victory – Bilbo’s small flame was fed and fanned, and his capacity for greatness began to translate into actual greatness. He found himself doing things he never thought himself able to do; he found himself saying things he never thought himself able to say; he found himself thinking things he never thought himself able to think. A passion began to burn and roar inside the hobbit, and when he made the decision to go along with it and to give into it, it made all the difference...not just in his life, but all-throughout Middle Earth.

It can be hard to trust the flame, the burning that we experience deep within ourselves...especially when we have layers of fear and complacency covering it up. We long for safety and security, comforts and pleasures; we, like hobbits, become content trapped in a lovely, picturesque world governed by fear because we feel it’s better than getting burned by the flickers of passion. But today, as Gandalf visited the uncertain Bilbo and called him out of his hobbit hole, Christ comes to us and calls us out of our fear. In His resurrected glory, in His almighty power, He stirs up the flames of passion deep within us...a passion for Him, a passion for holiness. He causes our hearts to burn, and He bids us to come along with Him on the adventure of a lifetime.

In our Gospel today, fear and uncertainty have captured the hearts of the two disciples who are on the road to Emmaus. They had placed all of their hope in the hands of that simple carpenter from Nazareth. Before their eyes He cured the sick, healed the lame, and raised the was so clear to them that He was the One Who had come to redeem Israel. He had just begun to fan the flames of their passion, when, just like that He was captured, sentenced to death, and crucified. It was over...everything was over and nothing seemed worth it. They decided, then, that it was time to leave and to get back to normal life. You can just imagine what their conversation must have been like as they walked along; they probably thought themselves fools and vowed never to fall for so ridiculous a thing ever again. They doused whatever flame was left in them and decided to trek back to a life concerned with worrying about the time and simply getting home for supper. But then they met the stranger on the road. They were as guarded against Him as Bilbo was against Gandalf at first, but the stranger knew that there was a lot more in them then they could even begin to realize. And in that instant, He began to stir their doused flames back to life...He set their hearts on fire and revealed Himself to them – in and through the simple breaking of bread – reminding them that they have nothing to fear, and He called them once more to Himself and to a life of holy passion. And then they went off and changed the world.

Saint Catherine of Siena, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, once said, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” In other words, let God stir up His grace within you and then go with it! If we let go of our fear, we can be stirred up into greatness, and that can make all the difference in our dark world. Fear may give us a comfortable life, but it will also prevent us from living to the full, causing us to hesitate in responding to the Lord’s call to greatness. We pray today for the grace to leave our complacency and our fear behind – as the disciples did – to practice our Catholic faith deliberately and bravely and wholeheartedly, and to follow Christ on the adventure to salvation, allowing Him to use us – His quite little fellows – as instruments of His grace and love in this wide world. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Have Mercy on Us and on the Whole World - A Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Second Sunday of Easter
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
April 23, 2017

When I was a kid, it was a firmly enforced rule that the majority of the time I had to be outside. Unless I was doing homework, sleeping, or eating, it was expected that I would busy myself outdoors. This was especially true when my cousins would come over. The adults would sit inside, drinking coffee and talking about boring things, and the kids would be outside running, exploring, and having a blast. Some of our activities were relatively peaceful, like hopscotch or riding bikes, but most of the time we just did downright stupid, if not dangerous, things. Like the time we thought it would be a good idea to play exterminator with a large wasp nest we found in the woods…or the time we decided to catch snapping turtles with our bare hands…or the time we rode in wagons down a really steep hill. There were many cuts, bruises, and broken bones as a result of our shenanigans, but all these experiences were formative and, in the words of my grandfather, “they built character!” One thing we did, though, would form me in a deeper way, though I wouldn’t have thought so at the time. We played a game called, “Mercy!” The game involved two people joining their crisscrossed hands, each trying to inflict pain on the other by straining their wrists. When one person couldn’t take the pain anymore, they would cry out, “mercy!” The other person would let lose his grip and, by showing mercy to the person in pain, become the winner. We could certainly look at such a game and say it was just boyish nonsense and that it taught a barbaric notion of winning. And while it might be true that in order to win you had to cause your partner physical pain, you could only really be declared the winner by letting up. It’s a subtle distinction, but a definite one…victory comes about by showing mercy.

Today, the Second Sunday of Easter, is Divine Mercy Sunday. In the year 2000, Pope St. John Paul II declared, in accordance with the wishes of our Lord manifested to St. Faustina, that the Sunday following Easter would be especially set aside to celebrate the gift of mercy that flows from the Divine Heart of Christ. Today we do just that…as we continue to bask in the joy of Easter, in the joy of Christ risen from the dead, we meditate on the great love of our God and we beg Him to continue pouring out His mercy on us and on the whole world. But what’s going on here? What are we celebrating and what are we asking for? We just finished celebrating a whole year dedicated to mercy...but what do we really know what it is that we are praying for today? We hear the word “mercy” so often…at Mass, in our devotions, in Elvis Presley’s songs, and even in childhood games. It’s such a simple word, but its meaning is extremely deep.

The word “mercy” comes from the Latin word misericordia – itself a composite of two words, miserum, which means “sad” or “compassionate,” and cor, which means “heart.” A merciful person, one who has mercy on another, allows his or her heart to be overcome with compassion when encountering another person’s distress. And this is where the rubber meets the road. The word compassion literally means, “to suffer with.” It’s not an emotion, it’s not a disposition, it’s not just being a nice person and feeling bad for someone…having compassion, being compassionate, means a readiness and a willingness to enter into another’s suffering, to be there with them, and if it is possible, to bring them some alleviation and healing. When we do this…when our compassion translates into action, we engage in true mercy.

For those of us who follow Jesus Christ, mercy really is the name of our game. We have been made the receivers of God’s mercy, of His Divine Mercy. By taking on flesh, our very humanity, and nailing it to the Cross, our Lord entered into our muck, into our distress, into our sinful world and in His innocence He suffered not just with us, but for us. And as He hung lifeless on the Cross, having accomplished this greatest act of mercy, blood and water gushed forth from His pierced side, showering His Church with the very means by which this mercy would be able available to us until the end of time: through the Sacraments, and most particularly through Penance and the Holy Eucharist. By calling out to Him in our distress in the Sacrament of Penance, our Lord unleashes upon us the floodgates of His mercy…absolving us of our transgressions, restoring us to life and to wholeness, and bringing us back the freedom we long for. And with our sins forgiven, we then approach the holy altar and feast upon the Lord’s gift of Himself, His own Body and Blood. He shows us what mercy really is and that it always involves the total gift of oneself.

But if we have asked for the total gift of God’s own self through the mercy of Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen from the dead, we better be prepared to live this mercy out in our own lives. Being nice and pleasant doesn’t cut it. Coming to Mass on Sunday doesn’t cut it. Going to confession every once in a blue moon doesn’t cut it. We could do all of these things, and must be do them, but our Lord is clear: the measure with which we measure out will be measured to us. If we ignore the distress of others…both their bodily and their spiritual distress…then what right do we have to approach God and ask for the gift of His mercy? If we are not willing to suffer with and to soothe the sufferings of the least among us, then we have failed to love as Christ commands us and the kingdom of God, He promises, will be taken from us.

These are stark words to speak in the midst of our Easter joy, but we have to get serious about what our Lord’s resurrection means. It is His triumph over death and over sin…it is the triumph of His mercy over humanity’s strife. We are called not only on this Divine Mercy Sunday but every day of our lives to be participators in the triumph of the Risen Lord’s gift of mercy. This means that we engage in the corporal works of mercy…that we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And it also means that we engage in the spiritual works of mercy…that we instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted, and pray fervently for the living and for the dead.

Mercy springs forth from love…it cannot come from anywhere else. And the love that we are called to is robust, and powerful, and meaningful only when it ceases to be emotional and becomes sacrificial. The Lord offers to each of us the gift of His mercy, born from the love He had for us on the Cross. In our distress and in our weariness, as we call out for Him to enter into our misery with us and to bring us healing, He calls us in return to be in-tune to the bodily and spiritual distress of those around us. Today we pray for the grace to respond willingly, lovingly, and sacrificially to these cries so that we might be a continued manifestation of the Lord’s gift of mercy to the whole world.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

“Sins are like grapes…they come in bunches.” - A Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Third Sunday of Lent
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
March 19, 2017

Several years ago, one of the former rectors of my seminary gave a spiritual conference to the seminarians that made such a lasting impact that it’s still talked about to this day. It was before my time in the seminary, but his words and advice were recounted so frequently among my confreres who had been there that I feel as if I had been there myself. He spoke to the seminarians about the power and lure of sin…how it lies to us and tries to convince us that it can make us happy, only to shame us and make us feel miserable in the long run. Sin is attractive, seductive, and oh-so-satisfying, he told them, but then it guts you out and leaves you for dead. And in his quirky, but on-target manner, he offered them a stern warning. “Gentlemen,” he said, “remember this: sins are like grapes…they come in bunches.” I have reflected many times on those words over the past ten years and as time goes by they seem to become more and more true. As we journey through life, we collect bunches of sins just as surely and just as effortlessly as we collect pounds on our bodies and junk in our basements. What starts off as a little bit of anger can quickly turn into a cluster of bitterness, hatred, vengeance, and violence. What starts off as a little bit of lust can quickly turn into a collection of impurity, pornography, hookups, and affairs. What starts off as a little bit of pride can quickly turn into a bundle of selfishness, greed, vanity, and smugness. And before we know it, we’re overwhelmed and can hardly recognize what we’ve become. We don’t always go out searching for these sins…we don’t necessarily go looking for them – they present themselves to us slowly, over time, and we choose them because we think, at least in the moment, that they’ll make us happy. But they never do, at least not for long. Just ask the Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel. For years she went from one adulterous affair to another, collecting husbands like they were going out of style, and yet she herself would probably be the first to admit that she was just as miserable and lonely as ever. And what was true for her is just as true for us in our struggle with sin…the only way to get out of this mess is to encounter Jesus Christ.

Let’s look a little more closely at this woman we hear about today. Before we hear anything specific about her, we know that she’s troubled. She has come out, on her own, at noontime to draw water from the well. First of all, no one goes to the well at noon…it’s way too hot at that time of day to be engaged in the strenuous work of pulling up and hauling buckets of water around. This work was done at dawn or dusk when it was cooler. Second, no one goes to the well alone. The daily task of going to the well for water was a communal affair – it was as much social as it was practical. The women would chat, the children would play, and everyone would have a chance to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. So just by knowing that this woman is by herself at the well at high noon we can see that she’s probably ostracized from the rest of the community. And, of course, later in the Gospel, we find out why: she’s the Hester Prynne of Samaria with her own scarlet letter, an adulteress dripping in sins of the flesh, a loose woman living with number six in her series of men.

By going to the well at noon, this woman no doubt thought that she’d get her water and get back home unnoticed and undisturbed, just like every other day. But much to her surprise, and at first to her chagrin, today she’s not alone – sitting right next to the well is Jesus of Nazareth. When He begins to speak to her, she’s immediately on the defensive – she’s edgy, smug, and rude. As He asks for a drink of water from her, she gives Him the third degree, coming up with a thousand reasons why that would be impossible. Little did she know that the superficial conversation she was having with a stranger about water was not about water at all…it was about her heavy heart that the God-Man wanted her to give over to Him. But as she found herself unable to do so, partly from her stubbornness and partly from her fear, God did what God always does…He offered His heart to her instead. He showed her that He knew her even more than she knew herself. He knew what she had done, what she had failed to do, and all of the sin and junk she had collected for herself. He knew about all her grapes and He showed her by His loving gaze that all of this was due to the fact that she herself was dying of thirst. She wanted to be loved, to be valued, to be accepted…but she bought into the lie that sin would do this for her. With every new man that she shacked up with, she was hoping to find something that would satisfy and soothe her broken, thirsting heart. But by encountering the God Who made her for Himself, she began to see that she had been looking for love – as Johnny Lee might say – in all the wrong places. She encountered the beauty of her loving God, the firmness of His truth, and His infinite goodness…and this encounter would change the rest of her life.

You and I are the woman at that well. We don’t want to hear about our sinfulness…we want to be left alone to run back and forth from our wells so that we can just get by and return back to the comfort of our sins. Yet deep down, we know that it tears us apart. We know that the grapes we have accrued for ourselves lead only to us searching for more grapes and never to our satisfaction. Our sins make us miserable…but like dogs that return to their vomit, we keep going back to them. And try as we might, we can’t break this cycle by ourselves…like the Samaritan woman, we need Christ to look us square in the eyes, to show us the truth, and to help us get out. It’s only in the penetrating fire of God’s loving gaze that we find out what we’ve been missing, that we find out the great Mystery that G.K. Chesterton so poignantly articulated when he said: “the man knocking on the brothel door is knocking for God.”

So we ask ourselves today: what are our grapes? We’ve all got them, even the holiest among us. What are the things we turn to fill ourselves up, to fill the void that only God can fill? What are the things that lie to us, that cause us to lie to ourselves, that convince us that they can and will make us happy? If you need help with this, open your Catechism to paragraph 2083 and start reading, or pick up a good examination of conscience, and pray that the God Who brought clarity and truthfulness to the Samaritan woman will do the same for you. The beautiful thing is, when we can see ourselves as God sees us, warts and all, we won’t feel accused or condemned or judged, we’ll see a way out of our muck and will begin to feel whole again. We’ll see that we don’t have to be slaves to our sour grapes, but can live in the freedom of God’s love.

Every Saturday, beginning at 2:30 PM, confessions are heard here at St. Peter’s. Every Wednesday, beginning at 7 PM, confessions are heard during the Holy Hour at the Cathedral. And Father Greg and I are only just an e-mail or a phone call away. Come to the well, admit what you’ve done, bask in the light of the noon day sun with Christ, let go of your grapes, and be free. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Becoming Holy Fools - A Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
February 19, 2017

I’d like to share with you the interesting story of Saint Simeon Salos. He was born in the 6th century in the city of Edessa, which is found in modern-day Turkey. He lived with his mother until he was 20 years old, at which time he and his longtime friend John both entered a Syrian monastery and professed their monastic vows. From there, Simeon and John traveled to the desert region near the Dead Sea and spent the next 30 years living a life of profound asceticism and developing a deep spirituality. At the age of 50, Simeon left the desert and moved to the city of Emesa in Syria where he began living a life dedicated to the care of the poor and the salvation of souls. But the three decades that he spent as a hermit in the desert stripped Simeon of any vanity and pride, and he wanted to ensure that his new life in the city would not be an occasion for these to return. And so Simeon did something unimaginable to most of us: he presented himself as a bumbling fool. He didn’t live or behave like other people and would often be found doing the most outrageous things, quickly becoming the joke of the town. Sometimes he would pretend to have a limp and other times he’d jump around as he walked down the street. Sometimes he would trip himself and other times he’d throw himself to the ground and thrash about. On one occasion he walked into the church, extinguished the candles, and began throwing nuts at the people who were praying there. On another occasion he was found dragging a dead animal by a leash around the city. And because of this, people sneered at him, insulted him, and even subjected him to beatings. Simeon caused quite a stir in Emesa, which is how he earned the name Simeon Salos – “salos” being the Greek word for “stir.” But he endured all of this with tremendous patience, realizing that his craziness would provide him with the cover he needed to set about doing the work of God without drawing the praise of the people. In secret, while the more worldly around him were not paying attention, Simeon fed the poor, preached the Gospel to the lowly, and helped many who were in need. He even cured diseases, healed the sick by his prayers, and performed many other miracles of mercy. But because he deliberately acted like a fool, no one in the city expected him to be saint, and he was able to quietly make a huge difference in the lives Emesa’s forgotten. It was only after his death that Simeon’s secret came to light, when his old friend John shared the words Simeon had spoken to him right before he died: “I beg you, never disregard a single soul, especially when it happens to be a monk or a beggar. For you know that Christ’s place is among the beggars, especially among the blind, people made as pure as the sun through their patience and distress. Show love of your neighbor, for this virtue – above all – will help us on the Day of Judgment.” It was then that the people of Emesa learned that they had been so wrong about Simeon Salos, the “crazy monk” as they so often referred to him, and they began to venerate him as a saint and to refer to him affectionately as the Holy Fool.

Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.” These are the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians in our second reading today. These are the words that settled firmly into the heart of Simeon Salos and defined his life. These are words that should cause us to stop dead in our tracks right now and to evaluate our lives as Christian men and women. Are we deceiving ourselves when it comes to our faith? Are we trying to have our cake and eat it too? Are we seeking to deepen our love for God while simultaneously trying to earn the respect of the world and gain the praise of the crowds? Are we fools for Christ seeking to grow in His wisdom or do we consider ourselves wise in this age? Where are our priorities? Where are our hearts? What do we value most in this life? For two-thousand years people have attempted to follow Christ without becoming fools, and really what that brought them was nothing more than a Christ-less and a Cross-less social ethic masquerading as faith. Our readings today call us to much more. They call us to enter into the paradoxes revealed to us in Christ...paradoxes that the wise will shirk and the foolish will embrace. They call us into a new, radical, and heavenly way of life...into a life that will inevitably be seen as foolish by those who fashion themselves as wise.

How can we not be fools in the sight of this world when our Lord and Master was seen as the biggest fool of all? The Gospel presents us with a consistent picture: God’s plan for us, for our salvation, was and is infinitely more reckless, more absurd, and more foolish than even the bumblings of Saint Simeon Salos. From the very beginning, that God would create a world to love Him that He knew would so often not: foolish. That He would decide to enter into our midst and take on our flesh: foolish. That He would place the burden of His plan for salvation on the shoulders of a young teenage girl: foolish. That the God of the universe would make His dwelling in the womb of a Virgin, become a child born into poverty, and subject Himself to the cruelties and hardships of this world: foolish. That God-in-the-flesh would bother walking around Galilee changing water into wine, multiplying bread and fish, and spending His time with the poor, the meek, the lonely, the sick, and the forgotten: foolish. That He would tell His followers to turn the other cheek when wronged, to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecuted them: foolish. That He would actually expect all of humanity to follow His commandments, to live lives of selflessness and sacrifice, and to love God and neighbor before themselves: foolish. That He would allow His own creation to nail Him to the wood of the Cross: foolish. That He would agonize for hours on the Cross and die one of the most embarrassing, horrific, and painful kinds of death: foolish. That He would rise from the dead, reveal Himself to a few, ascend into Heaven and then expect that people will follow Him despite the fact that they cannot see Him: foolish. That He would establish a Church that would be necessary for salvation yet filled with sinful and hypocritical people: foolish. Every bit of it, my friends, every bit of the Gospel, our Catholic Faith, and the salvation in Christ that we cling to is absolutely, totally, and completely foolish. But it is precisely because it is foolish that it has something, everything, to offer our very wise, but very dark world. It is only when we embrace the foolishness of our God, of our faith, that we’ll finally be able to see reality, to see truth, and to see that what we typically think is wise amounts to nothing more than a hill of beans in the sight of God.

I’m not suggesting that we all live like St. Simeon Salos, but I am saying that an authentically lived Christian life will result in us becoming, at least in the eyes of the world, like Holy Fools. It requires us to believe without seeing, to love without the promise that we’ll be loved in returned, to trust that life really only comes from death. Instead of trying to “normalize” ourselves in the eyes of the world, why don’t we become content being fools for Christ and try giving the world what it really needs: a good dose of crazy faith, a heaping portion of foolish hope, and a full measure of reckless love. 

St. Simeon Salos - the Holy Fool